A Journey Through Technology

How is Qualitative Research a good lens through which to view classroom research?

on September 11, 2015

As a chemistry teacher, I consider myself to be familiar with research.  Merriam defines research as “a systemic process by which we know more about something than we did before engaging in the process.” (Merriam, p.5) So often in science, research is mainly quantitative, or based on numerical data. But as an educator, sometimes numerical data can’t give you the whole picture. In a classroom, it might make sense to turn to qualitative research instead of quantitative research. “Qualitative researchers are interested in understanding how people interpret their experiences, how they construct their worlds, and what meaning the attribute to their experiences.” (Merriam, p.5) If I can learn more about how my students are learning and staying engaged, I feel like that information would be more valuable to me than just what they are learning. Test scores can only tell me if a student understands the test, not necessarily if they understand the material. As I think about my action research project, the idea of focusing on more than just numerical data makes sense because it can give me a better overall picture of how my students are actually learning.

“Qualitative research is an exploratory approach emphasizing words rather than quantification in gathering and analyzing the data.” (Devetak, p.78) When I work with students in my classes, words are used more than anything else to convey knowledge. I give my students notes by talking with them and showing them projected slides with important information. If I spend so much time talking to and with my students, it make sense that my research should be based on words more than numbers. The qualitative approach will allow me to talk one-on-one with students and learn more about who they are and how they learn, instead of just focusing on the class as a whole.

Another reason that qualitative research is a good choice for classroom research is “…these studies typically involve small numbers of participants…” (Coll, p.19) Classrooms typically contain small sample groups for research. Right now, my largest class has 24 students in it. If I were to try and collect numerical data, a sample size of 24 wouldn’t really be enough to show anything conclusive. “Qualitative studies typically use resource intensive data gathering techniques such as interviews. These studies are useful in that they allow researches to study issues of interest in great depth…” (Coll, p.19) If I can focus on qualitative data like interviews or observations, I will have data that is more in depth, and hopefully more meaningful, than just a set of numbers.

References:

Merriam, S. (2009). What is Qualitative Research. In Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Devetak, I., Glazar, S., & Vogrinc, J. (2009). The Role of Qualitative Research in Science Education. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science & Technology Education, 6(1), 77-84. Retrieved September 9, 2015, from http://www.ejmste.com/v6n1/eurasia_v6n1_devetak.pdf

Coll, R., Dalgety, J., & Salter, D. (2002). The Development Of The Chemistry Attitudes And Experiences Questionnaire (Caeq). Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 3(1), 19-32. Retrieved September 9, 2015, from http://www.uoi.gr/cerp/2002_February/pdf/04Coll.pdf

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3 responses to “How is Qualitative Research a good lens through which to view classroom research?

  1. Tristan says:

    I like the comment you made, “Test scores can only tell me if a student understands the test, not necessarily if they understand the material.” We can’t control what is going on in their lives outside of school, if they got enough sleep the night before, if they fought with a parent/guardian in the morning and are having a bad day, etc. These can all have an effect on the student not doing as well on the test, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t understand the information. I find that some of my students who can’t do well on a test to save their lives can come up to my desk and explain all the math concepts clearly, the test just gives them anxiety, and it’s not fair to base their grade solely on one piece of paper with 15 problems on it when they in fact do know the information and can prove it, that’s why I like qualitative research. I also like how it focuses on small groups like you mentioned, my biggest class is like 9 (I teach all combination classes so it’s hard to remember how many are in each), but if one student bombs a test, it brings down the entire class average, so it’s not a good guide which to measure class success. I enjoyed what you had to say this week.

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  2. tmerculief says:

    Sarah- That is a good point that qualitative research involves small numbers. I wish my classes were that small. My largest class is 31. My smallest is 24. I like what you say here, “If I can focus on qualitative data like interviews or observations, I will have data that is more in depth, and hopefully more meaningful, than just a set of numbers.” That is what we need more meaningful data a

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  3. pwjohnsen says:

    Research is “a systemic process by which we know more about something than we did before engaging in the process.” I also connected strongly with this quote, and I agree that quantitative research will never you give the whole picture for a classroom. Especially in the the social world that we are preparing our students for, we should focus on communication through words.

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